State Rep. Jim Walsh was one of 10 politicians singled out in a recent report on how state legislators amplify the arguments of far-right groups, as measured in part by their Facebook activity.
The report, “Breaching the Mainstream,” was issued in May by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a nonprofit that tracks far-right extremism as a threat to democracy.
The report called Walsh the “Ultimate Joiner” because he belonged to more far-right-adjacent Facebook groups than any other state politician. Walsh was part of 24 Facebook groups since 2015, the institute found, 10 times more than the average state legislator covered by the report.
Several of those groups have since been deleted or removed from Facebook.
Research director for the institute Chuck Tanner said the report tried to distinguish traditional conservative Facebook groups from ones that advocated for more extreme action. Tanner said they selected pages that had direct ties to prominent organizers of far-right groups, strongly opposed policies that would create more equality and organized local actions to protest or disrupt the government.
“These pages are stuff that no legislator with an ounce of integrity should be anywhere near,” Tanner said.
In an interview Monday, Walsh dismissed the seriousness of the report. He called the institute a “borderline communist” partisan think tank that did not bring any serious rigor into analyzing the Facebook groups.
“It’s just lazy. They are forcing the round peg of Facebook friend groups into their square hole of a manic fixation on white nationalism,” Walsh said.
There were 30 state politicians in Washington who belonged to at least one group flagged for far-right activity, according to the institute.
The majority of the 24 Facebook groups Walsh belonged to were formed to push back at Washington’s COVID-19 shutdowns, restrictions and mandates for face masks and vaccines. Tanner said the COVID-19 groups were included because their stances “undermine the capacity for government to address urgent public goods.”
Three of the groups Walsh joined focused on reopening Clallam County, Spokane County, and the Yakima Valley from COVID restrictions, none of which Walsh represents as part of District 19.
One now-deleted Facebook group Walsh joined was called “2020 PLANDEMIC CORONA PSYOP MIND CONTROL ANTI NEW WORLD ORDER, VACCINES, 5G.”
The report said that Walsh belonged to five schooling-focused groups that were placed in the “far-right” category because of their “efforts to surveil teachers.”
The report connected several of the groups to a September incident in which a Proud Boys-adjacent group attempted to escort a high school student into a Vancouver high school during a protest of the face mask requirement, triggering multiple lockdowns.
Three groups Walsh belonged to were flagged because of their ties to People’s Rights, the activist group created by Ammon Bundy in Idaho in 2020 that has grown to more than 20,000 members. Tanner said the institute has written specifically about People’s Rights before because of its extremist views and actions.
“When legislators start engaging in groups that want to overturn the Constitution’s equality provisions and joining groups that support insurrection and paramilitary activism, that’s beyond the pale,” Tanner said.
Tanner said the report likely understated the connections between legislators and these organizers because the report focused solely on Facebook groups. Tanner said the group focused on Facebook groups because they were relatively easy for researchers to monitor and the platform’s popularity with legislators.
Over the weekend, Walsh posted about the report on Facebook and encouraged others to join the remaining active groups.
“They’re just common-sense conservative. These are the politically-oriented FB [Facebook] groups that any reasonable person should WANT to join!” Walsh wrote.